Slow Down and Take a Breath

By Jackie Cushman

May 31, 2018 5 min read

If you attempt to follow news, then good luck. In our current rapid-response, knee-jerk environment, it's hard to separate real facts from emotionally charged interpretations. There are several questions to ask when trying to figure out what is "news" — is it new (new information or a new angle), newsworthy (worth spending time and resources on to cover, and to absorb) and/or based on facts?

Here are a few recent stories you can practice on:

In a May 25 New York Times article titled "Trump Says North Korean Summit may be Rescheduled," reporters Mark Landler and David E. Sanger wrote, "On Thursday, for example, a senior White House official told reporters that even if the meeting were reinstated, holding it on June 12 would be impossible, given the lack of time and the amount of planning needed."

President Trump tweeted in response, "The Failing @nytimes quotes 'a senior White House official,' who doesn't exist, as saying 'even if the meeting were reinstated, holding it on June 12 would be impossible, given the lack of time and the amount of planning needed.' WRONG AGAIN! Use real people, not phony sources."

Later it came out that the briefing had been given by Matthew Pottinger, the top official in National Security Council for Asia. Pottinger had replied regarding whether the potential date could be met, "The ball is in North Korea's court right now. And there's really not a lot of time. ...But there's a certain amount of actual dialogue that needs to take place at the working level with your counterparts to ensure that the agenda is clear in the minds of those two leaders when they sit down to actually meet and talk and negotiate, and hopefully make a deal. And June 12 is in 10 minutes, and it's going to be, you know."

While the source did exist (Pottinger), the source did not say the meeting was impossible as reported (well, interpreted) by The New York Times.

Or, since there was no source who said what was reported, no such source existed?

This story was news, newsworthy, but resorted to interpretation rather than facts.

Second story. This past Sunday, the New York Times ran an article by Christina Caron, "'OMG This is Wrong,' Retired English Teacher Marks up a White House Letter and Sends it back." The headline, crafted to draw attention, belied the information that was buried below.

"However, a style manual for the federal government calls for capitalizing 'Nation' and 'Federal' when the words are used as a synonym for the United States," Carson wrote. "It says 'State' should be capitalized when it is referring to the government or legislature."

This story was news, not newsworthy, and used a misleading headline. Here's a possible alternative headline, "Teacher might have been outraged, but she should have done her homework first."

The third story revolves around migrant children. Through rapid social media shares and outrage, the story morphed over the weekend. On May 29, Slate ran "How the Liberal Internet Mixed Two Different Child-Migrant Stories Into Anti-Trump Outrage Gold," by Henry Grabar in an attempt to straighten out the story.

"But as news outlets have clarified in recent days, the 1,475 children who have slipped off the radar of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) were not separated from their parents by the U.S. government — they arrived alone," Grabar wrote. "The latest members of a wave of unaccompanied minors fleeing violence in Central America who crossed the Southwest border beginning in 2014. According to ORR, 49 percent of those minors who arrived alone in FY 2017 were placed with parents in the U.S., 41 percent with close relatives, and 10 percent with "other-than-close relatives or non-relatives."

A photo of children "in the Nogales Placement Center to criticize President Trump's separation policy," had been taken four years ago — under President Obama's administration. Additionally, "a widely shared photo of a 'prison bus for babies' turned out to be, well, a prison bus for children aged 4 to 17 — but one purchased more than two years ago to provide field trips and medical appointments to kids in detention centers run by President Obama's DHS," wrote Grabar.

This original story was news and newsworthy, but totally messed up the facts and pictures, which inflamed emotions and circulated rapidly on social media.

When ingesting news, attempt to determine whether is new (new information or a new angle), newsworthy (worth spending time and resources on to both cover, and to absorb), and based on fact(s). Good luck!

To find out more about Jackie Gingrich Cushman, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com.

Photo credit: at Pixabay

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